Role: Area Sales Manager
Area: Midlands (Nottingham, Leicester, Derby, Birmingham, Worcester, Kidderminster)
Company: Gilberts (Blackpool) Ltd, a leading manufacturer of air distribution products
Who are your main clients and what industry sectors do you tend to work with?
I generally deal with consultants and contractors in the HVAC industry, particularly within the ventilation sector.
Run me though your typical day
First thing, I review the list of quotes that have been sent out the previous day. There are often potential orders to place that need following up and that is a great way to start the day. The first priority is always the projects that are due to be ordered. Responding quickly and accurately is essential and that is why our customers come to me and Gilberts.
Throughout the day customers email me with drawings or schedules of their projects. Some of these I can deal with on the go, others take longer or need involvement from our technical team in Blackpool. However, I’m a field sales guy, so getting out and dealing face to face with our customers is a major part of my day. You can’t beat it for really getting to know what matters most to our customers and helping them achieve their project goals.
It’s the design consultants that have to ensure a project is going to work, and supporting them – be it electronically or in their office – is something Gilberts is renowned for. As I’m relatively new to the role, this can be a bit daunting at times, but my confidence grows with each meeting and knowing “a man who can” in the team means they always get the answers they need quickly. As the project progresses and the contractor gets involved, being hands on throughout the process also gives them the confidence it will work first time. I get a real buzz from seeing a project completed knowing I had a small part to play.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
One thing I really enjoy is building relationships. I like being in front of people and then strengthening those contacts. Having regular calls from customers I’ve met asking for support and being able to help them tells me that, although I’m quite new, I must be doing something right.
I also love seeing a project from the very start to the finish. It can be an office block, care home or hospital and you see it before it even starts being built. Then you see how it develops and how your part fits into the whole project. Our part of the ventilation system is usually one of the last parts but it’s the most important, it’s giving oxygen to the people in the building.
How important is it to have good technical skills in your role?
A large part of my job is to give guidance to customers about our products. Sometimes it’s the designer trying to overcome a particular issue. Sometimes, a contractor thinks they want to use a particular product but I can see that perhaps there is an alternative that works better or is more commercially viable. I need to be able to explain why and show them it is a better alternative.
We have a great technical team in Blackpool with probably the best test set-up in the UK. They can usually respond straight away, but sometimes they will do full computer simulations or real life tests with room mock-ups to ensure situations that are out of the ordinary work. In my role, though, when you sit in front of the customers every day, you always need to give some technical input. Without that, you wouldn’t get any sales. People want technical answers from people and companies they trust there and then, so you need to know what you’re talking about and not get it wrong.
How have you acquired those skills?
I’ve worked in sales for quite a long time, across a variety of disciplines. I’m used to being in front of people and selling products, but when I joined Gilberts I had no previous HVAC technical knowledge.
So I’ve had to learn it. I did training at head office with the technical director and the office support team. Gilberts manufacture everything in Blackpool so I spent time there seeing how things were made from start to finish. I also spent time in the test lab, where I was able see how air is distributed out of various products under different conditions.
Alongside that, I spent time with the external sales team all across the country, shadowing them as they went about their day-to-day tasks. That was really helpful as they all do things their own way but with the same level of professionalism and desire to ensure the customer gets the support they need while at the same time ensuring we win the work.
I was lucky enough to take the area over from Pete Sedgwick, who’s now the National Sales Manager (and my boss) and one of Gilberts’ most experienced and successful ASMs. I took lots of notes and then typed them up at home in the evenings. I even got my partner to test me on them sometimes! I went through all the catalogues, building up my knowledge. And I often revise on products the night before meeting a client so I have the knowledge I need.
I’ve really worked at it and put in the hours, and it’s gone really well. I was meant to be on a 12-month transition into the job but the period has been shortened, because I progressed quicker than expected.
What do you find most challenging?
The workload can be a challenge – I’m very busy. Gilberts is the busiest it’s been for 20 years and growing. Geographically, my area is one of the largest. It also has a lot of consultants and contractors within it so there is never a dull moment.
As someone new to the HVAC sector, what are the attractions for people considering sales roles in HVAC?
The package is good, but you do have to earn your money. Expectations are high, as they are in all sales roles. If you want to be successful, you have to put the effort and hours in. The role can be very rewarding and enjoyable, even though it’s challenging and hard work. Every job is different and you make some good friends and build some good relationships with people.
It’s not like a lot of sales jobs where they conclude quickly. It’s a unique kind of role because consultants and contractors have different drivers and rely on you to know your stuff to help with their particular issues. Some projects take months or years to come to fruition, so you also have to be patient. It can be very technical and involved, but I find that side of it interesting.
If you’re willing to work hard, learn and be patient, it can be a job for life because your customers will always bring something new to challenge you. And we are always bringing new products to the market. My boss has been at Gilberts for over 20 years and he says he’s still learning.